AbstractsBiology & Animal Science

Evolution Made Visible: The Worlds of Thomas Jeffery Parker (1850-1897) the Noted New Zealand Zoologist

by Rosemary Helen Beatrice Crane

Institution: University of Otago
Year: 0
Keywords: New Zealand; History of science; History of the University of Otago; Nineteenth century; Otago Museum; History of biology; Thomas Jeffery Parker 1850-1897; Thomas Henry Huxley 1825-1890; Scientific illustration; Post-Darwinian Evolution; Religion & Science
Record ID: 1315837
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10523/5562


A biographical approach to the working life of Thomas Jeffery Parker FRS (1850-1897) provides scope for an in-depth investigation of how zoological knowledge became visible in late-nineteenth century New Zealand. A noted zoologist, Parker arrived in Dunedin in 1880 to a joint appointment as Professor of Biology in the University of Otago and Curator of the Museum. He had spent eight years working as demonstrator in Thomas Henry Huxley’s (1825-1890) laboratory in London. He brought with him a conviction that evolution provided the fundamental organising principle of biology. Once in Dunedin he set about making evolution visible. This study examines the various facets of Parker’s work that achieved this goal. I explore the lively debates arising from the public lectures he gave, in which he promoted evolution. In Dunedin, founded by Scottish Free Church Presbyterians in 1848, public interest in science-and-religion remained high throughout the late-nineteenth century. This study suggests that Parker’s own religious sensibilities lay between the agnosticism of Huxley and the faith of his Wesleyan father, the anatomist William Kitchen Parker (1823-1890). I also investigate Parker’s role in disseminating popular versions of biology, from the podium and through articles, to various audiences. His roles in the sociable side of scientific activities included organizing exhibits for conversaziones and international exhibitions. Parker’s efforts are placed within the context of Dunedin’s vibrant rational entertainment scene. Parker exchanged, bought, sold and collected specimens for the Otago University Museum in order to provide a comprehensive teaching collection. I appraise Parker’s previously little-understood role in museum collection building and explore his material practices in creating objects and their display according to evolutionary principles. Parker’s embryological studies of kiwi and phylogeny of the moa formed a major contribution to New Zealand biology. Methodologically speaking, he followed a traditional path of comparative anatomy. A close-reading of his more than forty papers of technically dense work reveal a conservative mind and a dedication to developmental morphology. Aware of changing epistemologies, he incorporated a statistical approach to his analyses. In this study, I suggest Parker created knowledge through drawing. Analysis of his illustrations reveals his concern with clear exposition. I show how the he used illustrations as part of the process of visual communication not simply as an adjunct. Generations of students learnt zoology using Parker’s system of ‘types’ a pedagogy he inherited from Huxley. They assimilated evolutionary principles via A Textbook of Zoology, which organized the animal kingdom in a typically late-nineteenth century progressive fashion. This two-volume book, co-authored with William Aitcheson Haswell (1854-1925) in Sydney and published posthumously, remains in print. An analysis of its creation shows how disciplinary shifts within zoology were fixed to the…